The two tzaddikim, Rav Elimelech and Rav Zisha, were brothers, and each had his own path of greatness. Rav Elimelech was a famous rebbe, who dressed in silk bekeshes and presided over tishen attended by thousands of admirers. His greatness was well-known, his sefer Noam Elimelech widely studied, and legends of his ruach hakodesh ran loose like wildfire.
His holy brother, Rav Zisha, presented himself to the world as a pauper and a simpleton. He wore tattered garments and a small kasketel, and tried his best to keep his greatness hidden from the world. Nevertheless, he was a giant in Torah and chasidus, equal in greatness to his brother.
From time to time, their father, who had long passed on to the World of Truth, would visit the two holy brothers on erev Shabbos. We do not know whether he came in a dream or whether they received his directive while they were awake. He would advise them on which Jewish communities throughout the country were in need of tochachah, and the two holy brothers would then travel together to convey the rebuke.
Rather than deliver fiery speeches rebuking their brethren, Rav Elimelech and Rav Zisha would use other methods to get their message across. They would stop off in a town and park their wagon near the marketplace or shul. When the target of their admonition was within hearing range, the two brothers would begin to shout at each other.
“Zisha, you thief!” Rav Elimelech would yell. “How could you have trimmed off even a drop of that customer’s order yesterday? You think Hashem didn’t see you? You want to come back to this world to atone for it? What’s wrong with you?”
“Elimelech, I must admit that you are right,” Rav Zisha would say humbly as a large audience eavesdropped on their public exchange. “I’ll apologize to that man and return what I stole from him.”
From somewhere within the audience, the man whom the rebuke had been intended for would begin to squirm, shame flooding his being. He’s right, the man would think to himself. For just slightly more profit, I am cheating my customers. I’m a regular thief! I’d better start rectifying my behavior immediately. Otherwise, I will pay a price for this one day…
“But what about you, Elimelech?” Rav Zisha would then demand loudly, ignoring the crowd that was curiously hanging on to every word. “You ate something that is treif, did you not? Don’t you know that you’ll burn in Gehinnom for it? Are you crazy? For just a little pleasure in this world you are prepared to undergo years of suffering once you pass on?”
“You’re right,” Rav Elimelch would say, his eyes downcast. “Oy vey, are you right. No, it most definitely isn’t worth it. Thank you for reminding me what life is all about.”
Another man standing nearby would find himself silently agreeing with every word that Rav Elimelech uttered. I’ll never taste any forbidden food again, he would pledge silently. Ribbono shel olam, I have sinned! Please forgive me!
It was in this manner that the holy brothers managed to reach hundreds of Jews and encourage them to repent in specific areas.
One Friday, Rav Elimelech and Rav Zisha were in a town far from home when their father came to them. He instructed Rav Elimelech to spend Shabbos with the town’s rav. Rav Zisha was directed to the home of the shoemaker. Though no explanation was provided, the brothers knew that by the end of Shabbos, the reason for their father’s directive would be crystal clear.
“You’ll be spending Shabbos with the rav,” Rav Zisha said, not a trace of envy in his voice despite the significantly better circumstances his brother had been set up with. “I’m sure you’ll end up gaining much in Torah. Please, don’t forget to share all your original thoughts with me after Shabbos.”
“Of course,” Rav Elimelech agreed. “And if our father is sending you to the shoemaker, there must be more to the story. You’ll tell me what he tells you, after Shabbos?”
“Sure,” Rav Zisha agreed. “Let’s meet at the entrance to the town after Shabbos. Have a wonderful Shabbos!”
“You, too,” Rav Elimelech wished him. Walking down the street, he approached a Jew and asked for directions to the rav’s home. It was late in the day, and Shabbos was drawing closer. Walking briskly, he made his way to the rav’s address and knocked on the door.
Some children, presumably the rav’s, opened the door for him and immediately noticed that he appeared to be a respected person. “How can we help you?” they asked.
“Is the rav home?” Rav Elimelech inquired.
“No, I’m sorry, but he went to the mikvah,” a young boy, looking about ten years old, responded.
“Alright, then, I’ll wait for him outside,” Rav Elimelech said agreeably.
“Please come inside,” another boy invited him. “We’ll give you something to eat and drink while you wait for our father.”
Rav Elimelech smiled at him. “Thank you, but it’s okay. I prefer to wait for your father here.” He clasped his hands and began thinking in learning as he waited.
Coming up the walk, the rav noticed the man waiting for him by his front door. Immediately, he sensed the holiness emanating from his guest’s glowing face. “Shalom Aleichem,” the rav called out in greeting. “Who do I have the honor of addressing?”
“Aleichem shalom, my name is Elimelech,” Rav Elimelech replied.
The rav nearly swooned. Elimelech! The rebbe Rav Elimelech himself! He fell to the floor in respect. “What can I do for the rebbe?”
“Would I be able to please stay with you for Shabbos?” Rav Elimelech asked.
“I am undeserving of this incredible honor,” the rav replied weakly. “But of course the rebbe is invited to remain here.”
The rav led Rav Elimelech inside and offered him food and drink before calling in his children for brachos from the holy rebbe. Rav Elimelch was shown to the best room in the house, where he could stay in comfort and privacy. Leaving him alone to prepare for Shabbos, the rav hastily spread the word that the gadol was present in their town and that they would hopefully merit to have him address their community that evening.
While this was taking place, Rav Zisha attempted to locate the home of his own host. “Where does the shoemaker live?” he inquired of the first Jew he met.
“There’s no shoemaker here,” the Jew replied.
“What do you mean, there isn’t a shoemaker?” Rav Zisha pressed him. “There has to be a shoemaker in town.”
“Okay, there is a shoemaker if you insist,” the man responded. “But I wouldn’t advise you to bring him your shoes. He’s more of a shlepper than a shoemaker, if you ask me. For a shoe repair, you’re best off going to the next town after Shabbos. I can recommend someone excellent.”
“Thank you, but where does the local shoemaker live?” Rav Zisha asked.
“All the way down that way,” the Jew replied, shielding his eyes from the sun with one hand and pointing in the right direction with the other. “Keep going until you pass the cemetery. After the cemetery, on the very outskirts of the town, you’ll see a lone dilapidated shack. That’s the shoemaker. His name is Berish.”
“Thank you for the directions. Have a good Shabbos,” Rav Zisha wished him. Ignoring the man’s scornful expression, no doubt in honor of the shoemaker, he began walking in the direction the man had pointed.
As he passed the cemetery, Rav Zisha kept his eyes peeled, looking around for the shoemaker’s residence. He could make out a narrow rectangle building standing alone in the middle of a field. As he got closer, he realized that the ramshackle building had originally served as a chicken coop, but was now occupied by human inhabitants.
He glanced around. There were no other dwellings within his range of vision. If the man’s directions were correct, this must be the home of Berish the shoemaker.
As he stood outside the former barn, contemplating his next move, a woman emerged from inside. She glanced inquisitively at Rav Zisha. “Can I help you?”
“My name is Zisha, and I need a place to stay for Shabbos,” Rav Zisha responded. “Would I be able to stay with you?”
“Are you making fun of me?” the woman asked, her face pale. “We are the poorest family in the entire town. I have nothing to serve you. We don’t have what to eat ourselves. I have little children, and nothing to feed them.”
As if to corroborate her words, two barefoot children came running out of the house. Dressed in tattered clothing and painstakingly thin, they chased each other around the long, narrow structure.
Rav Zisha glanced at them and turned back to the woman. “I don’t need much,” he assured her. “All I need is place to sleep and a kezayis to eat for each seudah. Shabbos will be here in a few minutes, and I have nowhere else to go.”
She hesitated uncomfortably. “As a Jewish woman, I know it is my obligation to welcome a stranded Jew into my home. However, I can’t do so without my husband’s permission.”
“Where is your husband?” Rav Zisha asked in surprise. It was very close to Shabbos. Why wasn’t the shoemaker home yet?
“Out in the fields,” she said, glancing past his shoulder at some unseen point. “I have no idea when he’ll be home. To be honest, there’s still some time. I would advise you to try to find another host. We have no food here, and I can’t promise my husband will agree to host you. It is in your best interest to find another place to stay.”
“I want to spend Shabbos here,” Rav Zisha insisted.
“I need to prepare for Shabbos now,” the woman said pointedly, turning to go back inside. “You can wait for my husband here.”
As he waited, Rav Zisha decided to circle the former chicken coop that now housed the shoemaker’s family. His father hadn’t sent him to this place for no reason, he knew. Perhaps he would discover the reason through some basic exploration.
When he reached the back of the narrow rectangular structure, he noticed an open window high in the wall. A ladder was leaning against the wall, leading directly to the open window. This chicken coop has two floors, he realized.
“Hey,” someone called, startling him. “Hey, mister. May I ask what you are doing here, snooping around on my private property?”
Rav Zisha whirled around. He saw a man of medium height and stocky build emerge from the forest. He was dressed in dirty, torn clothing with a rumpled beard and smudged hands. “Shalom aleichem, are you Berish the shoemaker?”
“That’s me,” Berish confirmed, a tad suspiciously. “And you are—?”
“Zisha,” Rav Zisha supplied. “Can I stay with you for Shabbos?”
“Here?!” Berish began to laugh at the irony. “I am a pauper, poorer than any other pauper you have ever known,” he informed his unwanted guest. “I am a shoemaker with barely any business and not a penny to my name. There’s nothing for my family to eat, let alone a guest.”
“I don’t need much,” Rav Zisha insisted. “Can I please stay for Shabbos?”
“Do me a favor and find yourself a different host,” the shoemaker practically pleaded. “I’m not exaggerating when I say that we don’t have any food.”
Rav Zisha tried again. “I’m stranded in this unfamiliar town, and I need a place for Shabbos. Please, don’t turn me away! Can you spare me a kezayis? That’s all I need.”
“Alright,” the shoemaker said grudgingly. “I can spare a kezayis. But I do have to warn you that I work very hard all week and on Shabbos, I can barely stand from fatigue. I daven in the quickest minyan in town, and then we have a very brief seudah, after which I go to sleep until the morning. The same happens on Shabbos day. Quick davening, quick seudah, and then lots of time for resting and recouping my energy. If you need a place where you’ll feel the Shabbos aura, I don’t think this is for you.”
Oh no, Rav Zisha thought, groaning inwardly. What did I get myself into? Why did my father send me here? He followed the shoemaker into his home with a tinge of hesitation.
Inside, the ex-chicken coop was large and spacious, though cold and drafty and practically bare of furniture. Rav Zisha could see a long corridor stretching across the length of the rectangular structure, with various rooms leading off of it.
He stood as unobtrusively as possible in a corner, watching as the shoemaker’s wife set the lone table with what once was a white tablecloth and two small candles. Berish, meanwhile, went to hastily change out of his work clothes into something slightly more suitable for Shabbos. When he returned, wearing a creased white shirt and patched pants, Rav Zisha was surprised to realize that he was not a heavy man after all. When Rav Zisha had first met him, he had been wearing layers of sweaters over his thin frame, giving him a stocky impression.
“Let’s go,” Berish said brusquely, stepping into his chunky work boots. “If we’re late to davening, we’ll miss the whole thing completely.”
Rav Zisha hurried after him, past the cemetery, until they reached a small house. “The minyan is in here,” Berish said, jerking his thumb in the direction of the door as he walked toward it.
Inside, about twenty other men were gathered, all simple laborers. There was the gravedigger, the water carrier, the farmer, the carpenter, and of course, the shoemaker. Minchah was over almost as soon as it began. Rav Zisha could barely get out the words fast enough, let alone engage in his usual fervent concentration of each word.
The chazzan began kabbalas Shabbos, singing off tune as the rest of the congregants bantered with each other catching up on a week’s worth of news. Rav Zisha buried his face in his siddur and tried to concentrate, reminding himself that he was there for a purpose and he would discover the reason eventually.
On the other side of town, meanwhile, Rav Elimelech was sitting in shul at the eastern wall, beside the rav. The two prayed with such intensity that the entire congregation actually felt the power of their tefillos. It was as if an electric current had gripped the room, a Yom Kippur-like aura enveloping the congregants, enabling them to daven like they had never davened before.
Back on the outskirts of town, the laborers finished turning enough pages in their siddurim. “Let’s go,” the shoemaker nudged his guest impatiently. “It’s late enough already, let’s not waste any more time.”
Rav Zisha walked alongside his host, his heart screaming in protest at the miserable excuse for a davening, but he calmed himself down. This was where he was meant to be, even if he couldn’t understand it.
The seudah turned out to be just as disappointing as davening. Berish made Kiddush over a small piece of challah. He simply could not afford wine. After bite size chunks of challah were handed out, the hostess brought in a single, skimpy portion of fish, which she proceeded to divide between her husband, their guest, and all their children.
The miniscule portion sizes and lack of a filling meal were not a problem for Rav Zisha, who was used to living like a pauper. What bothered him was that after his host had finished eating his sliver of chicken, he bentched quickly and the seudah was over. No divrei Torah, no heartfelt zemiros, no family time together.
Berish excused himself to retire for the night, informing Rav Zisha that he would wake him up in time for Shacharis the following morning. With a curt nod, the shoemaker’s wife showed Rav Zisha to the room where he would be sleeping and disappeared.
Rav Zisha glanced around the small room. Other than a pile of rags in one corner, which he assumed was supposed to serve as his bed, the room was bare. Silently, he sat down on the mound of rags and thought about the whirlwind evening. Normally, he would probably still be in middle of kabbalas Shabbos, but the shoemaker, apparently, operated with the speed of lightening so that he could fit in as much sleep as possible over Shabbos.
Well, Rav Zisha thought, I don’t plan on sleeping tonight. Perhaps this simple-seeming shoemaker is not what he passes himself off as. Perhaps I’ll catch him learning or saying tikkun chatzos in middle of the night.
He began thinking in learning as he kept his ears perked for the slightest sound of movement. But the hours ticked by and the house remained completely silent. There were no footsteps, no muted breathing, no sound of anyone leaving the house or their beds, for that matter.
He remained awake the entire night in vain. As he informed his guest, the shoemaker had gone to sleep immediately after the seudah and had remained sleeping the entire night.
Shacharis was just as bad as davening the night before. When Berish and Rav Zisha arrived, there was only one other man present beside the baal tefillah, who was concluding Nishmas.
“What time did davening start?” Rav Zisha whispered to his host.
“Seven-thirty,” Berish replied.
“So where is everyone?” Rav Zisha asked. “And why isn’t the chazzan—?”
“The chazzan starts when davening starts,” the shoemaker explained. “We all begin from wherever he’s up to when we arrive. This is a minyan; we work together. Of course, if ten men don’t arrive by the time he’s up to Shemonah Esreh, the chazzan will wait.”
Without another word, Rav Zisha opened his siddur and began davening, wondering how he would ever catch up to the chazzan, who was racing ahead like an escaped horse.
Slowly, the room began to fill up with the same men from the night before, all yawning loudly as they joined in the davening at whichever point the chazzan happened to be at when they arrived.
When it was time for krias haTorah, Rav Zisha was honored by being called to the Torah. He walked slowly up to the bimah, wondering if the sefer Torah was kosher or not, and if he was permitted to say borchu es Hashem with Hashem’s name. It was getting tougher and tougher to keep his spirits up.
Back in the big bais medrash in the heart of town, his brother Rav Elimelech arrived in shul, bright and early, after a purifying dip in the mikvah. Shacharis was beautiful and uplifting. On a spiritual high, the entire shul began dancing as they recited Nishmas in a heartfelt singsong. The presence of the shechina was keenly sensed by all.
After an inspiring davening, Rav Elimelech joined the rav at his home for the seudah. Over fluffy challah and steaming bowls of cholent, they discussed divrei Torah and sang gorgeous zemiros. When the seudah was over, the rav and Rav Elimelech sat down for a long, satisfying study session together, enlightening each other with their unique perspectives on the Gemara they were learning.
Rav Zisha’s experience at the shoemaker’s home could not have been more different. Just as he had done the night before, Berish made Kiddush on a stale piece of bread, which was then divided amongst a dozen people. After a single forkful of fish and a few cooked beans which passed off as cholent, the meal was over. Berish went to sleep and the children went to play.
Retreating to the privacy of his assigned room, Rav Zisha spent the rest of the day learning from memory. He continued listening out for sounds of Berish waking up, but there were none. It seemed that the shoemaker was exactly who he appeared to be: an overworked, exhausted, and ignorant laborer.
As the sun began its descent on Shabbos afternoon, Berish knocked sharply on his guest’s door.
“Yes?” Rav Zisha called.
“Minchah!” the shoemaker called back, his voice tinged with impatience. “Let’s go, it’s time for Minchah!”
“Coming!” Rav Zisha cried, scrambling to his feet and rushing to open the door.
“Let’s go, it’s late,” Berish said, breaking out into a run. “We’ll miss it if we tarry.”
Shrugging into his coat, Rav Zisha ran after him. By now, he knew just what to expect, and indeed, Minchah was exactly the way he imagined. He struggled to keep pace with the chazzan, who seemed to be trying to break a world record for the most words uttered in one minute. Davening was over almost as soon as it had begun.
Rav Zisha’s shemonah esreh took considerably longer than the rest of congregants, and by the time he finished davening, Berish was no longer beside him. Scanning the thinning crowd for his host, he did not find him.
Shrugging, he remembered the shoemaker’s perpetual hurry through his obligations so he could get back to sleep. He must have left without me, he realized, donning his coat and heading out of the shul back to the former chicken coop. I must have been davening for too long.
Knocking on Berish’s door, he walked inside and squinted in the dim light. He saw his hostess, the shoemaker’s wife, tending to her children, but there was no sign of Berish or the third Shabbos meal.
Hearing his footsteps, the shoemaker’s wife turned around. “Can I help you?” she inquired.
“Where is your husband?” Berish asked.
She lifted her shoulders in a slight shrug, as if to say, “How should I know?”
Rav Zisha pursed his lips thoughtfully. “And what about shalosh seudos?” he asked slowly.
The woman visibly relaxed. “There’s a small piece of challah left,” she offered. “Take it and wash.”
Rav Zisha washed his hands and ate the portion of challah, fulfilling the mitzvah of shalosh seudos. He sang a little and then bentched, feeling uncomfortable under the woman’s scrutiny.
“Why don’t you go wait for my husband in shul?” the shoemaker’s wife asked him pointedly when he finished. “He’ll surely be there for maariv.”
“Alright, thank you very much,” Rav Zisha agreed, getting up and walking slowly out of the dark house. A thousand thoughts whirled around his brain. Where was the shoemaker? And why was his wife so uncomfortable with his questioning?
Two of the children were playing outside when he emerged. “Good Shabbos!” they wished him sweetly.
“Good Shabbos, kinderlach,” he returned, deciding to try his luck with questioning them.
“Where is your father?”
“Tatte is on the roof,” one of boys informed him importantly.
“Shush!” the other one chastised him as they returned to play.
Rav Zishe recalled seeing a ladder leaning against the back of the chicken coop when he had explored the house before Shabbos. The sky was darkening steadily; there was little time to waste. Briskly, he rounded the long, narrow structure to the back.
The ladder was not there.
He must have pulled it up once he got onto the roof, Rav Zisha thought in dismay. He thought furiously. How else to get up there?
Sighing, he went back inside. His hostess regarded him frostily. “I believe I asked you to wait for my husband in shul,” she reminded him.
“Can I please wait for him here, in the dining room?” he pleaded.
She gave a long, drawn-out sigh. “Alright, if you must.” To avoid yichud issues, she pushed the front door open wide and disappeared into one of the many rooms lining the long hallway.
As soon as she left the room, Rav Zisha headed straight for the chimney. Sticking his head inside, he found that, like all chimneys, this one was black and dusty and full of soot. Choking and sputtering, he forced himself inside, climbing carefully up the notches in the wall and staining his fingers black.
At the top of the chimney, he lifted his head into the fresh night air and took a deep breath. Then he jumped over the top onto the roof. Despite the child’s claims, it was empty.
Looking around, Rav Zisha noticed a flight of stairs descending down into what appeared to be an attic, with sounds floating up toward him. Carefully, he walked down the stairs toward the sound. There was a door at the bottom, and he twisted the handle gingerly, pulling the door open.
His head began swimming and he almost passed out.
The room was brightly lit with long-lasting lanterns that had been kindled before Shabbos. The shoemaker sat at the head of a long table. Thirty-five additional men lined the two sides. Someone was in middle of expounding a deep and complicated sugya, and he stopped short as soon as he noticed the intruder.
Rav Zisha blinked in the light. There were thirty-six men in this secretive room. Thirty-six men. Lamed- vav. Could it be?
The shoemaker looked at Rav Zisha with a small smile. “You are a smart man,” he noted. “We will allow you to stay on condition that you will never reveal to anyone what you have seen or heard here. Do you agree?”
Rav Zisha found his tongue. “I agree.”
“Have a seat, in the corner of there,” Berish instructed. “I apologize that you cannot join us at the table.”
Rav Zisha sat down, waiting curiously.
The shoemaker closed his eyes and the others began swaying. With tremendous concentration, they began reciting yichudim. Profound secrets of the Torah began emerging from Berish’s mouth, followed by equally astounding divrei Torah from others around the table.
Their words were almost to holy for Rav Zisha, a tzaddik in his own right, to bear. With dawning clarity, he understood that his father had not sent him to the home of a simple ignoramus, but to the home of the leader of the lamed-vav tzaddikim.
They continued in this manner until three stars appeared in the night sky. Concluding shalosh seudos, they bentched and recited Baruch Hamavdil. Then, the men stood for Maariv, and what a Maariv it was. The holy Rav Zisha had never participated in such an elevated davening before, and he found himself being raised to new levels just from that one tefillah.
When Maariv was over, they wished each other a good week and took an extra moment to caution Rav Zisha never to reveal what he had witnessed that evening. Then, they descended the ladder back down to Berish’s backyard, reverting into the personas they were known by in their everyday lives; the baker, the watercarrier, the blacksmith.
Rav Zisha thanked his hosts and then began the walk across town to wait for his brother at the prearranged location. Rav Eliemelech had enjoyed an uplifting shalosh seudos with the entire community. The meal, replete with singing and divrei Torah, had continued well into the night, and they only made Havdalah long after Shabbos was over.
Finally, he joined Rav Zisha at the city gates. “How was your Shabbos?” Rav Zisha asked as they began walking.
“Wonderful,” Rav Eliemelech replied, his face shining with holiness. “The rav is extraordinary, and he told me an amazing pshat…” With glowing eyes, he repeated the rav’s divrei Torah, as well as his own, and his brother listened in appreciation.
“How about you?” Rav Elimelech asked when he finished speaking. “How was your Shabbos at the shoemaker’s?”
Rav Zisha’s face shuttered immediately. “I’m sorry, but I can’t tell you,” he said apologetically.
“What do you mean? We had a deal,” Rav Elimelech reminded him.
“I know, but I still can’t tell you,” Rav Zisha insisted.
“You can’t do that,” Rav Elimelech said. “We made a deal that we would each tell the other about the events of our entire Shabbos. I kept my side of the deal, and now it’s your turn to do the same.”
“I can’t,” Rav Zisha continued to maintain. “I promised not to say.”
“You shouldn’t have promised,” his brother chided him. “You promised first to tell me about Shabbos, so any promise contradicting that is null and void. Nu, tell me what happened over Shabbos.”
“Alright,” Rav Zisha said reluctantly, caving to the pressure. Against his better judgement, he began describing his Shabbos at Berish’s home, ending with his astounding discovery at shalosh seudos.
Rav Elimelech listened, openmouthed. “We should never have doubted our father,” he commented when Rav Zisha grew silent again. “He knew exactly where to send us both for Shabbos. Let’s turn back. I would love to meet the shoemaker myself.”
“Absolutely not,” Rav Zisha warned him. “It will cost us our lives.”
From behind them, they heard the sound of approaching hoof beats and then a wagon came into view. The driver, a Jew with kind eyes, offered the two brothers a hitch to the next town, and they boarded the wagon.
In the next town, the two brothers entered an inn and asked for permission to remain there for the night. They had no money and could not pay for their room, but knew they would freeze to death if they remained outside. “Please, have pity on us,” Rav Zisha implored the innkeeper. “We are Jews, and it is so cold out. We don’t need a proper room, just a roof over our heads to keep us warm and dry.”
“Alright, come in, then,” the innkeeper invited. “You can stay here in the lobby for the night.”
The two holy brothers settled down on the lobby floor, Rav Elimelech in one corner and Rav Zisha in the second. Exhausted from their Shabbos experiences, they lay down and prepared for sleep.
A few moments later, an elaborate carriage pulled up outside the inn, and a high-ranking government official, flanked by two bodyguards, entered the building. “I’d like your most comfortable room,” he requested.
“Certainly,” the innkeeper hurried to agree. “Let me show it to you.” He ushered the official through the lobby in the direction of his most palatial guestroom.
“Hey, what do you have here, homeless?” the official suddenly asked, noticing Rav Elimelech and Rav Zisha laying on the floor. “I don’t like how this looks. Put them in a proper room, and add it to my tab.”
Rav Elimelech and Rav Zisha were shown to a guestroom, replete with beds and linen and a small hearth. They sank gratefully onto the beds and slept deeply until vasikin. After davening Shacharis, they left the inn.
The trouble began when the government official began packing up his things to continue on his way. “I am missing a silver spoon,” he informed the innkeeper. “It must have been those two Jews.
Where are they?”
“They left at dawn,” the innkeeper said, trembling.
“Alright, then, we’ll have to go find them,” the official declared. “We’ll be back soon for our things. Men!”
Accompanied by his guards and servants, the official boarded his carriage and ordered the driver to proceed with all possible speed. It wasn’t long before they came across the two brothers making their way back home by foot.
The driver pulled up alongside the brothers and all the guards jumped off the wagon, blocking their way. The official descended the carriage slowly and came to face the two men. “You took my silver spoon,” he declared accusingly.
“Chas v’shalom, we would never steal,” Rav Elimelech protested. “We didn’t take your spoon.”
“Oh, really?” the official chuckled. “You expect me to believe that? Men, tie their hands to the back of the carriage.”
Before they could continue to protest, Rav Elimelech and Rav Zisha were seized and their hands were bound tightly to the rear of the carriage. The official watched in satisfaction, checking to ensure that the knots were strong and secure.
“We’ll be boarding the carriage now, and it will continue to travel,” the official explained to the brothers. “If you’d prefer not to be dragged across these rocky roads, you’d need to run to keep pace with the horses.”
“Please let us off,” Rav Zisha pleaded. “We didn’t take your silver spoon!”
The official just shrugged indifferently as the driver whipped the horses and the wheels began to roll. As the carriage picked up speed, the two holy brothers were forced to run like they had never run before. Faster and faster, they forced their legs to keep pace with the wagon to avoid a terrible and painful death.
For fifteen long and painful minutes, the carriage rode, the two panting brothers bringing up the rear. Finally, they reached the next town and the official ordered the driver to halt in front of the police station.
A police officer came out to greet them, and Rav Elimelech and Rav Zishe began to speak at once, denying the official’s charges and pleading for mercy.
“Alright, I’ll deal with these two,” the policeman told the official, who promptly untied their aching hands from the back of the wagon and drove off.
“I promise, we are innocent,” Rav Zisha continued to insist. “We are observant Jews and we are forbidden to steal.”
The police officer pushed back his cap. “Rav Zisha, do you recognize me?” he suddenly asked.
Taken aback to hear the policeman address him by name, Rav Zisha searched the man’s face.
“No,” he said honestly. “Who are you?”
“I sat next to you in the shoemaker’s attic,” the officer said quietly.
Rav Zisha looked again. Could it be that this was the same man who he had sat near at the extraordinary shalosh seudos that he had intruded upon?
“Weren’t you told that you were forbidden to reveal anything you saw in that attic to anyone?” the police officer rebuked him. “You promised, and then you went ahead and revealed the secret to your brother.”
“I was wrong. I apologize,” Rav Zisha said humbly, remorse flooding his being.
“Revealing the identities of the thirty-six hidden tzaddikim is one of the worst things a person can do,” the officer continued. “If we are exposed, the protection that we afford klal Yisroel can be removed, and that would put the entire generation in grave danger.
“Since you revealed the secret to your brother, you were destined to die, but the suffering you endured at the hands of the government official, who by the way, is also one of us, will suffice as your atonement. It should serve as a constant reminder not to reveal that which you are not allowed to reveal.”
With this lesson in mind, the two holy brothers continued home, ready to resume their holy service for klal Yisroel.
Have a Wonderful Shabbos!
This story is taken from tape # A256